Do mentors still exist in Adland?

January 5, 2011

Mentor, from Greek Mythology

As a beginning copywriter at Leo Burnett, I had two mentors who helped me immeasurably. The first was Ted Bell, a creative director plucked from Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York. He’d made a name doing some of the later adverts in the famed Chivas Regal campaign. He and his partner, John Eding (both perhaps mentored by the great Helmut Krone) had just been hired by Burnett to bring daring-do and expertise to our agency, specifically on the Schenley (now Guinness) account. Both men did just that, reinvigorating the moribund Dewar’s campaign. Their effort (and ours) would gather many creative awards for the agency. To this day, I hold the craft of print and poster making in the highest regard. And I owe much of that to these two exemplary creative people and, in particular, the writer, Ted Bell.

The Commodore, Ted Bell

Wanting to impress my boss and/or emulate him was key to my development as a copywriter. When you watch Mad Men observe how Peggy busts her ass to impress her boss, Don Draper. It was not sort of the same for me. It was exactly the same. Working all night –hell all week- to craft one paragraph and then, heart in my throat, presenting it to Ted was everything. At the time it just seemed normal. I wanted what they had and I was prepared to go to great lengths to achieve it. And Ted and John were almost always there for me. In addition to copywriting, Ted taught me, by example, the fine art of presenting. Watching him sell work was a privilege. He owned the room. Again, I think of Don Draper.

The other mentor I was born into. My father, Larry Postaer was and still is a model creative director and consummate writer. Obviously, I didn’t work for my dad but his influence on my chosen career was critical. Among other things, my father taught me about loyalty to company and client as well as the near-sacred nature in trusting one’s team and partner. While these qualities have lost meaning in today’s creative department that doesn’t make them in any less precious.

Father knows best…

I felt if I could bring the best of Larry and Ted to the office each day I would be set. Easier said than done. But that was my aspiration and that is what mentoring is all about.

Now that it is my turn to be a good mentor I know I often fall short. Being an introvert, I am not as inclined to work with others as I should be. However, I do try. My door is always open. In a very real way, I set up this blog to help newbies in advertising get a leg up. Fact is when I write here I imagine my audience as younger than I am. Always have.

So, whatever happened to mentors? My fear is that beginners in our field are less interested in being mentored than I was. There is a Keyshawn Johnson mentality pervading our industry: Just give me the damn brief! I have the know-it-all gene in me but I was smart enough to look up to others and ask for help. Being teachable is a virtue no matter who you are or what you do but it is especially valuable to the young in Adland.

Maybe they think, Hey, I’ve got X followers and Y friends so what do I need U for? By definition, social media breeds narcissism. A less cynical view: the average 25-year-old is afraid of asking for help. Or is the average 40-year-old afraid to give it? Probably some of both. My best response is the only response: Don’t be.


15 Responses to “Do mentors still exist in Adland?”

  1. Stuart D’Rozario was my boss at Kirshenbaum & Bond. Then Eric Silver at BBDO. Finally Cliff Freeman at Cliff Freeman & Partners. I’ve been blessed with good role models. It’s important to pay it back. After all, someone’s got to hire me freelance when I’m old(er). 🙂

    • SRP said

      Some good names on that list, Tom.
      And you’re right about Karma.

      • Christine Bock said

        I think the question is not whether mentors exist in Adland, but “Does Adland exist?” Having spent 21 years at LBC in print production, nothing seems the way it was, either in print or TV ads being approved these days. Nothing new, nothing different, nothing that says “Hey, look at me” and then “Need me, want me, buy me”. It doesn’t even seem to be an industry any more.

      • A.J. said

        Nice post. I still could use a good mentor. Thanks Steffan.

        1.a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. influential senior sponsor or supporter.
        –verb (used without object) act as a mentor: She spent years mentoring to junior employees.
        –verb (used with object) act as a mentor to: The brash young executive did not wish to be mentored by anyone.

  2. Great post. I would have liked to have been a mentee of Dean Buckhorn or Ted Bell, for that matter. But the names of some of the most influential people in my career aren’t necessarily plastered all over the annuals. Some of them aren’t even creatives. None of them have a handle as good as “The Commodore.”

    • SRP said

      I actually got to sail on The Commodore’s sailboat a few times. It was a vintage wooden boat, painted navy, which he kept in Belmont Harbor.

  3. the mentor/mentee relationship is alive and well and i’m the proof. first as one of the very few female options traders at merrill lynch where my mentor trusted in my brain enough to pick me to handle his biz when i was a rookie.

    in my second career as a rep i chose my mentors and reached out to agency people i felt were doing the best work around. no surprise – everyone is willing to help with advice, guidance and sometimes even a crying jag or two! and everyone (including you) has allowed me to connect.

    i have yet to meet or reach out to anyone who didn’t respond and offer a helping hand and a word or two of wisdom.

    as they taught me in the merrill training program, find a mentor who is doing it the right way successfully and ask them “how did you do that?”.

  4. Mentoring younger writers gives as much to me as it does them. It clarifies in my mind just why I do something a certain way. Or it forces me to look at a new way of doing things.

  5. Kelly Rodgers said

    As ironic as it may sound, my mentor (Kenny Lee), worked for your father at RPA back in the day. He too has told me that he’s modeled his creative direction after your Dad.

    Kenny has single-handedly helped me become a better writer. In addition, he’s revived my enthusiasm for advertising. He’s passionate. He’s talented. And he always has an open door policy. In my opinion, the best kind of CD and mentor.

    Great post.

  6. Jill Baskin said

    What I remember about Ted bell was what he said (about me), “give it to the little blonde, she’ll get it sold” He never could be bothered to learn my name but he wanted me presenting his ads.

  7. Hi Steffan – Your post hit a nerve with me. When I got back in the CD’s chair last year, I had this feeling (some call it terror) I needed fresh guidance. I got in touch with a pro I had worked with years ago, Doug Lowell, now at ID Branding. He signed up on the spot. We meet about once a month, and he dispenses a liberal dose of inspiration, sanity and humor. He even helps me with ideas for mentoring the younger creatives who work for me. So yes, mentoring is alive and kickin’ in Adland.
    Glad I discovered your blog.
    – David Smith

  8. SRP said

    A month later AdAge has a piece on mentoring. How about David Ogilvy for a mentor?

  9. […] frankly, just about everyone else in Chicago. (Except for maybe our boss, Ted Bell but that’s another story.) Tom regularly came to work in a suit and, if not that, always donning a jacket. Unless he was hung […]

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